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Thursday, 10 December 2020
Page: 7406


Senator McKIM (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate) (09:49): The Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 makes sensible and progressive reforms to Australia's anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism regime, and the Greens will be supporting this legislation.

However, this bill is quite remarkable. It's remarkable for what is not in it rather than for what is in it. Once again, what is not in this bill is an expansion of the scope of Australia's anti-money-laundering laws to include real estate agents, accountants and lawyers, the gatekeepers, as providers of designated services and to require those professions to report to AUSTRAC. These are the fabled tranche 2 reforms, promised right back in history and lost in the mists of time in 2006 but still, 14 years later, to be brought to this parliament. LNP governments and ALP governments have failed in their duty to bring these fabled tranche 2 reforms into this parliament so we can crack down on terrorism financing and on the international crime syndicates against whom Australians are bidding for homes at auction at the moment and with whom they are competing for properties in an already overheated property market that is pricing young people out of the great Australian dream of owning their own home. Part of the reason that so many people can't afford their own home in this country is that the international crime syndicates are buying them out from under them, using their deep pockets to outbid them at auction and deny them their dream of owning their own home.

This is a gaping hole in the system that is meant to protect Australia and the world against money laundering and terrorism financing. Australia is now one of only six countries in the world not to have included the gatekeepers within the scope of anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism-financing laws. We are alongside such luminaries as the United States, China, Madagascar, Mauritius and Mongolia. The failure by Australia and this handful of other countries to include these gatekeepers is the weak link in the global fight against money laundering and terrorism financing, particularly money laundering through the real estate sector. As former AFP officer John Chevis recently told 60 Minutes, 'Everyone in the world who is involved in anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing knows that lawyers, real estate agents and accountants are well used by people who have illicit wealth to transfer.' AUSTRAC estimates that $1 billion in suspicious transactions flowed through the Australian property market from just one country, China, in just one year, 2016, and you can bet your bottom dollar it's a lot more now. Yet this government—as we've just heard, facilitated by the Labor Party—once again is failing to do what needs to be done to stop dirty money being laundered through the Australian real estate sector.

I can only conclude that the major parties in this place are okay with prospective homeowners having to bid against terrorists and international crime syndicates at auction. I can only conclude that this government's more interested in appeasing those in the property industry who donate so handsomely and who benefit from dirty money going into real estate than it is in protecting Australia's integrity and reputation. We can only conclude that this government is happy to signal to the kleptocrats and dictators of the world that, if they want a safe place to park their ill-gotten gains, Australia is open for business, because it's not as if the major parties don't know about this problem and it is not as if they have not been warned.

The Financial Action Task Force is the world's standard-setting body for anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing, and do you know what? Australia is a member. In the Financial Action Task Force's 2015 mutual evaluation report, they said:

Australia is seen as an attractive destination for foreign proceeds, particularly corruption-related proceeds flowing into real estate, from the Asia-Pacific region.

In other words, if you're from this corner of the world and you're looking for somewhere to launder your money, Australian real estate is top of the list.

Of course, the Financial Action Task Force recommended in 2015 that real estate agents, accountants and lawyers be brought within the scope of the act. What have we had from this government? Deafening silence. Now, it's interesting, isn't it? You hear a lot about terrorism from this government. You hear a lot about the need to crack down on terrorists from this government. Every time they need a 'look over here' distraction, they roll out Minister Dutton and frighten Australians about terrorists so they can take away our country's freedoms and our country's liberties. But what do you get when you propose cracking down on terrorism financing, when you propose trying to take a bit of the heat out of the massively overheated property market in this country so more Australians have an opportunity to buy a home? What do you get from the government? Crickets—absolutely nothing. In 2018, the Financial Action Task Force follow-up report noted Australia was still not compliant with international standards. Again, crickets from the government. Interestingly, the Financial Action Force was due to arrive in Australia last summer to begin a new round of evaluations. They never came. Why didn't they come? There still hasn't been an explanation from government.

It's not just the Financial Action Task Force; there's been a plethora of other people calling on the government to plug this dirty hole in this country where the dirty money flows. In 2017, the OECD recommended that Australia address the risk that the real estate sector could be used to launder the proceeds of foreign bribery. In 2019, the IMF called for real estate agents, accountants and lawyers to be listed as providers of designated services. And earlier this year the Tax Justice Network said that Australia is undoubtedly a host of significant quantities of illicit drug funds from outside the country. Even the banks want this fixed. Here's the Australian Banking Association in 2017:

The ABA recommends progressing the Tranche 2 reforms as a priority. It is vital that Australia closes the current gaps in the money laundering/terrorism financing regime.

I tell you what: when the government's lagging behind the Australian banks on money laundering, my word you know something rotten is going on in this country. This is a government of its mates, by its mates, for its mates, and this Prime Minister is the Property Council's Prime Minister.

The failure to include lawyers, accountants and real estate agents within the scope of anti-money laundering laws has turned Australian property into the washing machine of the Asia-Pacific, and that is why the Greens will be moving an amendment to this legislation which would require the government to introduce into this parliament by 1 July next year an amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act to expand the scope of the act such that lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, high-value dealers, real estate agents and trust and company service providers are providers of designated services and are subsequently reporting entities.

The Australian Labor Party have just got up and, with a small caveat, have made effectively the same speech I made, wringing their hands about how long it's taken to bring in these fabled tranche 2 reforms. Yet Senator Kitching then got up and said that, even though they agreed that these reforms should be brought in, they weren't going to support the Greens amendment which would actually require these reforms to be brought in within six months.

Let's make no mistake about it, the Australian Labor Party gets plenty of donations from the property sector as well. Here we go again—dirty money buying outcomes in this parliament from the major parties and, ironically, on legislation that's supposed to be cracking down on dirty money, cracking down on money laundering. Who can forget Mr Bowen before the last election grandstanding in the Australian media, promising that Labor would introduce these reforms and saying how terrible it was that the Liberal-National party haven't done it. The first chance the Labor Party get to put their money where their mouth is they squib. What actually is the point of the Labor Party in this place? What is the point of them? The refugee-torturing, neoliberal, coal-hugging, strip-mining-our-forests party—

Senator Kitching: Mr President, I have a point of order. I'm loath to interact with Senator McKim on this, but I do think that that is a breach of standing order 193(3).

The PRESIDENT: I didn't hear anything personal in nature, Senator Kitching. Despite insults being objectionable, when they're directed collectively they are not necessarily a personal reflection—as long as the language is not unparliamentary.

Senator McKIM: I stand by that description of the Labor Party. I repeat: just what is the point? Seriously, there is no argument for the Labor Party not to support the Greens amendment. I'll make a prediction here. This amendment will fail for only one reason today, and that is because the Labor Party are not going to support it. If the Labor Party had supported our—

Senator Cash interjecting

Senator McKIM: I look forward to the government supporting our amendment, Senator Cash. I will congratulate you if you get up and say that you are going to support it. At the moment I am not talking about you, but you can place your position on the record and I'll respond to that in due course. I stand to be corrected, but I think it's unlikely that the government will support our amendment. If that is the case then it will fail for one reason and one reason only, and that is because the Labor Party have squibbed. Why have they squibbed? Because they will look after their donors in the property industry as well.

I say to the Labor Party: by failing to support the Greens amendment this morning you will be placing the interests of international crime syndicates and the financiers of terrorism around the world ahead of the interests of ordinary Australians who want to buy an affordable home for themselves and their families. That is what you are doing today by indicating that you will not support it.

On your weaselly, pathetic excuse, Senator Kitching, I say: you talk about process and about needing to make sure that things are done carefully, but it has been 14 years. How much longer do you need? It has been 14 years since these fabled reforms were promised. As I said, they have been lost in the mists of time. Yet, even though we have done the responsible thing in our amendment and offered a window of over six months to the government to do the work and the consultations necessary and bring it into this place, that's still not good enough for the Labor Party. What even is the point of them?

We're obviously very disappointed that Labor is not going to support our amendment. I hope that the government will. We'll wait to see what Senator Cash says about this. As I said at the start of my speech, this is an unobjectionable bill that the Greens will support, but this is a massive missed opportunity to crack down on money laundering in this country, to crack down on terrorism financing in this country and to do something—just something—to take the heat out of the housing market to allow more Australians, particularly young Australians, an opportunity to buy their own homes.